names have been omitted in this post
"Daddy and I went to Target the other day…" my daughter told me. She was sitting on her tiny flowered stool I'd bought her at Homegoods. Sitting at the coffee table in the den she was busy coloring a picture with crayon's on white printer paper.
I sat across from her in a chair… the television's volume low in the background… the weather segment was on… I glanced over at her, setting aside my glass of ice water on a coaster and closed a box of cheese crackers.
"Yeah? That's good." I stated.
"Yeah… she said as she intently studied her artistic masterpiece she was working on… "He said to me… "I hope we don't see Mommy in here… because she hates me"."
"He said that to you?" Inside I was incredulous but kept my tone even and calm despite the shock within.
I was thinking to myself how it was so twisted that he was speaking for me and how I supposedly felt… painting himself again as the victim, assuming zero responsibility for his poor behavior and of all things putting all of it upon our eight year old daughter's shoulders… when in reality he needed to keep his mouth quiet. This was a time when his words fell into the category of "what not to say to your kids."
"Yep!" she quipped back and paused, carefully selecting the next crayon she wanted from the box… magenta was selected next and she used it to color the dresses she'd drawn on her stick figures.
"Hmmm… that is a pretty strong word to use… hate… I believe we can not like how someone acts, we can hate their behavior and it makes us so mad we feel like we hate them, especially at first, but after some time goes by we feel better." I sat in thought for a few and finally asked her "So, how did you feel about that? What he said?" I asked her, watching her face intently.
She looked up at me and spoke "It made me feel mad…"
"Yeah… well… did you tell him how you felt?" I ventured… wondering, hoping she felt that she could share her feelings with him…. no matter how he felt about them.
"Oh, no… " she shook her blonde head now looking back down at her picture in progress… her hair partially hiding her face from me.
"Why not, sweet pea?" I asked her gently.
"Because… I can't do that… tell him how I feel. He would get mad." she admitted with her hair still hiding her little face… it was easier for her to share her hurt heart hidden behind a curtain of beachy waves… and as I heard her words my heart ached for her… she was shrinking out of fear… out of possibly yet predictably being scolded by him for speaking her truthful observations. And that… that was just poo through and through. She then paused coloring and looked up at me… right in the eyes and vehemently spoke "But inside… inside my head I was thinking… well, you shouldn't have cheated and you should act nicer too."
Stunned, I searched for words… but couldn't find any… she continued coloring and in the background the weather switched to sports so I rose to turn it off. Then I leaned down and gave her a big bear hug… "I'm glad you felt you could tell me about this. I hope you can always talk to me about anything. I love you." I told her.
In 2001 Judge Michael Haas wrote a letter to divorced parents in reference to their children that has since made it's path all over social media… maybe you have read it.
By Judge Michael Haas - 2001
“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault.
No matter what you think of the other party—or what your family thinks of the other party—these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an “idiot” his father is, or what a “fool” his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.
That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.
I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer.”
When Dysfunction Is Known By The Children….
Growing up I saw how my father treated my mother, really all of us… and it deeply, profoundly affected me. He was of the belief that by opening her car door for her he was a good husband. But that naturally didn't make up for all the ranting, the stomping through the house, the cussing, the screaming, taking the Lord's name in vain, the slamming of doors, the mug throwing, the iron clad control, the tires squealing out of the driveway… him defending his parents and determinedly not backing down off that mountaintop… work always taking first priority…. the house falling into ruins due to neglect and lack of care despite money being readily available to fund art collections or hoarding as more aptly named… it was a crazy train of dysfunctional abuse that needed to come to a screeching halt… and I was keenly aware of it all.
Despite Judge Haas's letter of obvious good intentions but what I see as a partially erroneous view… not once during my childhood did I see myself as "bad" based on my father's behavior. I didn't look at him and feel self-shame for his behavior. His behavior was his own, as mine was my own… I knew we were separate and I certainly didn't take on any responsibility for his actions whether they were good or bad.
You Are Not Your Parents….
Perhaps some children go through a dysfunctional childhood and do internalize their parents actions… maybe they did see themselves as flawed due to dad's alcoholism or mom's infidelities… perhaps they felt deep shame within based on their parents flawed choices that negatively affected their entire family unit… and if that is true… my heart goes out to you… because it is so incredibly important for you to know if no one has ever told you before now that you are not your parents… you are not their poor choices, their regrets, their dreams, their failures nor even their triumphs… you are you and no one else.
So, today… I give you encouragement… to cling to… to remember that just because maybe your dad cheated, or your mom slept with her boss or your parents drank… just because they fought like crazy and their arguments left you hiding in a closet scared… just because they divorced and left behind a zillion bad memories in their wake doesn't make you a bad person… it's no reflection on you… it's not your fault… yes, they shouldn't have cheated… it could be argued they shouldn't have acted so poorly… maybe they could have been nicer… and maybe on some days they were nicer… maybe your birthday and Christmas were the only "good" days from your childhood you can recall, when everyone kept it together for the sake of the holiday… or maybe those ended poorly too…
Regardless… you don't have to subscribe to the notion that their choices define you… that's so far from the truth… the truth is… you are loved by God… you are His… you had His stamp of love from day one… even before you were born…
Your parents may have made lousy choices but you weren't one.
You are wonderfully made and His.
© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2014
5 Tips For Married & Divorced Parents:
1. Your children are individuals. They are not possessions to be awarded, won, etc. The parent who treats them as tangible items comparable to being won in an auction are merely playing a game of manipulation and parental alienation.
2. Don't tell your children that your spouse/ex hates you. More than likely your ex hates your behavior. Likely they would love nothing more than for you to stop engaging in manipulative ploys to gain allegiance with the children and instead spend that same amount of time and energy into merely loving them.
3. Your children have a right to not like your choices. There is not a single handbook that states that they are in the wrong if they don't agree with what you've done. We can teach our children to respect their elders and authority but they don't have to like their behavior and as they grow older they can learn they have the right to boundaries with anyone they believe to be toxic.
4. You can think that your spouse/ex is an "idiot" all you want… but you can't verbalize it or intimate it.
5. If you don't know what to say to your child the best default "go to" response is always: "I'm glad you felt you could share that with me. I hope you can always tell me anything. I love you." Because at the end of the day part of parenting is teaching our children that all feelings are okay… (albeit, actions made from those feelings may be questionable as we know)… but when they feel something they should also feel like they can go to us… and when they do, that is a parent-child victory.